We All Have What It Takes To Be A Rafael Nadal

Feb 05, 2022 1 Min Read
Rafael Nadal
Source:Image by (CC) Doha Stadium Plus Qatar
We Are Not Born Great. We Become It.

Nothing short of outstanding, 35 year old Rafael Nadal won the 21st grand slam at the recent Australian Open. Defying all odds, including a foot injury in 2021, Nadal played for five and a half hours against his opponent, Daniil Medvedev, in what is now called an epic final. 

How did Nadal play his game against the younger Medvedev who was hitting the ball harder and more cleanly? How did Nadal keep his focus in an undoubtedly tough match? When things were already complicated enough, an incident in the stands forced security guards to descend onto the court and stand around the two players as a man apparently attempted to jump onto the court.

Nadal fought to be in the game until the game started to look in his favour and he took the lead. He worked even harder to win his 21st grand slam. This will go down as one of tennis' greatest wins. “If we put everything together, the scenario, the momentum, what it means. Yeah, without a doubt probably have been the biggest comeback of my tennis career,” said Nadal.

Nadal’s victory in the Australian Open means he is now the only one with the men’s grand slam record. 

What got him and the other illustrious sportsmen to become the best? In both sport and business, a growth mindset is a key tenet for personal success, and this article here sheds light and provides an understanding into self-leadership, and five proven strategies for developing and fostering a growth mindset. 

1) Work ethic and Dedication – It’s no surprise that hard work, discipline and dedication are essential ingredients to this secret sauce. What is important is to understand that it is a journey to greatness. Do not be focused on winning a battle. You win some, you lose some. A series of wins and failures lines you up for growth. An interesting anecdote to share is that of the legendary Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan was known for practicing preposterous hours daily. Before scheduled practices, he would  have his own round of practices at home. He set a standard for himself and eventually for his team. This level of work ethic and dedication made the Bulls one of the best NBA teams in history when Jordan headed the team.


Michael Jordan, a former American basketball player who led the Chicago Bulls to win 6 NBA championships and won the Most Valuable Player Award 5 times. Image obtained from (CC) Flickr.

Just like Jordan, Nadal is also recognised for his sheer hard work and determination. On winning the grand slam, his friend and rival, Federer congratulated him on social media and said, “What a match! To my friend and great rival @RafaelNadal, heartfelt congratulations on becoming the first man to win 21 grand slam singles titles…..A few months ago we were joking about both being on crutches. Amazing. Never underestimate a great champion. Your incredible work ethic, dedication and fighting spirit are an inspiration to me and countless others around the world.”

2) Self-awareness – Success doesn’t happen overnight. So says the idiom  ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. Howard Falco, who has worked with many athletes, says, it’s all about the mindset. He believes that there is infinite possibility for any athlete and all this starts with self-awareness. Through the process of self-reflection on their thoughts, feelings and actions - this helps them identify unconscious facets of themselves that are most likely holding them back from achieving all they desire. The real exercise here is practicing self-reflection without fear. 

“If you ask me who are my top three favourite athletes, taking everything into account – not just the sport but the mind, the attitude, the idea, the portrayal,” says Howard, “it’s Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.” Howard says, “He was never fearful of putting himself in a position to achieve more, even at the cost of losing. And what’s even greater than all that? He was doing it for a greater reason. It was not about boxing – he understood the platform, and what he was doing to inspire people at a time of horrible racial injustice.”

Read More: Five Steps to Build Greater Self-Awareness


Muhammad Ali was the World heavyweight boxing champion, an Olympic gold medalist and had 37 career knockouts. Often regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. Image obtained from (CC) Flickr.

3) Focus on your goals and know your purpose – Successful athletes often have passion and set out very specific goals they want to achieve. The ‘why’ they are doing and what they are doing is essential in achieving success. Goals can be small. They can be daily targets the athletes want to achieve. Achievement of such daily goals also means newer and bigger goals can be further set forth. Celebrating milestones as they are achieved is part of the journey of growth. As Nelson Mandela once said,

“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the life ahead.”

When athletes have purpose and passion, it will motivate them to pull through difficult times or strenuous training sessions. Nadal, on winning his 1000th match in Paris in November 2020, Nadal said,

“I faced issues in terms of injuries during different parts of my career but I always hold the passion and the love to keep doing what I do. That is to play tennis.”

4) Resilience and Fighting Spirit – Do athletes have a ‘win at all cost attitude?’ While some athletes are able to push through difficulty, for others it can be more of a struggle. Resilience is about the ability to spring back from hardship or adversity and the use of personal qualities and strengths to survive the pressure. What is critical here is action. To keep doing whatever it takes to achieve the end goal. Nadal at the Australian Open finals had to work exceedingly hard for every point in the game and observers wondered if this kind of playing was sustainable for 5 sets for this 35 year old. Well, he certainly showed them it was all possible with true resilience!

To build and strengthen resilience, athletes have to develop a growth and optimistic mindset by being open to new experiences, opportunities, and techniques and learning specific coping strategies.

5) Humility – Humble athletes are the total package of  sportsmanship, teamwork, confidence and respect for others.

Humility, as a virtue in relation to sports, is two-pronged. First, humility in accepting and acknowledging that athletes have limits. Second, humility in acknowledging the strength they receive through backing and encouragement from their support group, such as the coaches, officials, family and friends, and many others, for their success.

Read More: The Importance of Humility in Leadership

Becoming humble takes effort and intent. It’s a learned skill. Athletes with humility and grace are always confident with themselves, self-reflect on their capability,  open  to criticisms and  acknowledge that they have weaknesses. A humble athlete does not ride on a wave of emotions, either after winning or losing a game. Being humble earns respect not only from their supporters, teammates, coaches but also their rivals. 

Nadal, although being the sole owner of the new men’s record, was quick to play down this achievement. He was quoted saying that “I feel lucky to achieve one more very special thing in my tennis career,” he said. “I don’t care much if I am the one or not the one or the best of the history, not the best of the history. Honestly today I don’t care much. For me it’s about enjoying nights like today.” In his years playing tennis, he said that his hunger to keep playing tennis kept him going despite facing challenges.

“I always had great help with great people around me and great family. Without them, of course, it would be impossible.”

As we forge ahead in 2022, athlete or not, let us be guided by these values displayed by Nadal who fought a herculean fight to emerge a champion. We ALL have it in us to BE a Nadal. I challenge you to master self-discipline and roar in the Year of the Tiger!  

The journey towards greatness starts with your determination to learn to develop yourself. Check out Necole. Necole is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered learning app that that curates personalised learning just for you.

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Lead Editor leaderonomics.com

Kiran Tuljaram, the Lead Editor at Leaderonomics, brings a wealth of experience to her role. With a background as a trained lawyer, she dedicated nearly a decade to the banking industry before embarking on her entrepreneurial journey. Following her tenure as a Legal Manager at a bank, Kiran founded and successfully ran multiple businesses, including the establishment of her own fashion accessories label. Balancing her entrepreneurial endeavours, Kiran is also a devoted mother to three girls. Her varied background in banking, motherhood, employment, occasional social work, and managing director in her business has provided her with invaluable insights and a unique perspective on the critical importance of leadership within organisations.

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